Are you worried that your axolotl might be lonely? Do you already have an established aquarium and are considering adding an axolotl for the first time? Or, do you just want to make your axolotl tank more lively by introducing other creatures? Whatever your reasons, you probably wonder if axolotls can live with other species.
Here’s what I discovered:
Axolotls prefer solitude over the company of tank mates. They have very specific requirements which are best met when they live on their own. Whilst an axolotl can share its tank with certain species of invertebrates, fish, or even other axolotls, not all tank mates are suitable. The risk of introducing incompatible species into your axolotl’s tank is significant, for both your axolotl and its tank mates. These risks include mental distress, physical illness, and/or injury which could even lead to death. In summary, it’s better to avoid tank mates altogether. And if you still decide to introduce other individuals into your axolotl’s tank: choose wisely!
In the following guide, you will get answers to the following questions:
- What are the specific requirements of axolotls?
- What makes a good tank mate (and a bad one)?
- What species are the best tank mates for axolotls?
- What species are the worst tank makes for axolotls?
- What are the risks of keeping tank mates with axolotls?
- Frequently asked related questions.
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Table of Contents
- The Complete Guide to Axolotl Tank Mates
- Frequently Asked Questions
The Complete Guide to Axolotl Tank Mates
To understand why axolotls are not the best community animals and what makes a good or bad tank mate, we must first take a closer look at their specific requirements.
In particular, axolotls are peculiar regarding behavior, habitat (water parameters, lighting, etc.), and food, which de facto rules out certain species.
Specific Requirements of Axolotls
Axolotls are predominately calm, peaceful creatures.
They tend to be more active after dusk, during the night, and before dawn – when many other species sleep.
Laid-back / Slow
Axolotls are laid-back, slow-moving animals. So might even say lazy.
They can walk across the bottom of their tank – but find it hard to run due to the density of the water and the difficulty to get traction on soft substrate (generally sand). They can also swim, but rather awkwardly and not as rapidly as fish. Therefore, their hunting abilities are limited and ambushing prey – rather than pursuing it – is perhaps their most effective tactic.
Finally, axolotls are solitary creatures. In the wild, they spend the vast majority of their lives on their own – only pairing up with a partner of the opposite gender to reproduce (generally once a year). Once the mating ritual is over, axolotls don’t hang around either. The whole process is pretty swift and once they’re done procreating, they return to their solitary lifestyles.
Axolotls are freshwater creatures. They can also live in brackish water. Brackish water is somewhat saltier than freshwater but not as salty as seawater.
The ideal water temperature for axolotls is between 60 to 64 degrees Fahrenheit (or 16 to 18 degrees Celsius). Axolotls do not fare well in warmer water temperatures.
Axolotls don’t enjoy fast-moving water and can get distressed by strong currents. Indeed, they are bottom-dwelling creatures native to a handful of slow-moving freshwater lakes in Mexico City, Mexico.
Due to the characteristics of their native habitat, they’ve evolved to thrive in dimly lit, shaded environments. They also spend the entirety of their lives underwater. As a result, they don’t like bright, direct lighting, and their eyes are also susceptible to light.
Axolotls are carnivores and eat a range of invertebrates, larvae, insects, and small fish. For this reason, all of these creatures have the potential to become prey when introduced into an axolotl’s tank.
Despite their innocent looks and cute smile, axolotls are predatorial animals that have evolved to sit at the top of the food chain in their ecosystems. Whilst they’re able to scavenge the bottom of their tanks and the surrounding waters for food, they can also hunt and ambush prey.
What Makes Good Axolotl Tank Mates?
As seen above, axolotls are solitary creatures. They don’t NEED the regular company of other creatures to thrive.
However, if you still decide to introduce one or several tank mates, it’s worth understanding what characteristics to look out for to identify species potentially compatible with axolotls.
Below are some traits that good tank mates have in common.
Any species you introduce into your axolotl’s tank must be freshwater animals. Saltwater creatures will die in an axolotl tank.
Axolotl tank mates need to be capable of living in the cool water temperatures that axolotls thrive in. This rules out most freshwater tropical fish, which require much warmer habitats.
The fact that axolotls are mainly active when it gets dark should rule out purely diurnal animals – especially those who are small enough to fit into an axolotl’s mouth. They would make an easy target for a hungry axolotl and are bound to trigger its hunter’s instinct.
Moreover, diurnal and nocturnal animals don’t coexist well as they would be active during the other’s resting periods. This would greatly upset their sleep and recovery and could harm both axolotl and companion.
Axolotls will likely attempt to swallow anything that looks like food. Therefore, being a swift simmer can be an advantage potential tank mates can use to evade axolotls, who are relatively slow-moving creatures.
Certain aquatic animals tend to be more aggressive than others. Some are also avid eaters that constantly nibble away at anything that looks or smells like food.
Therefore, docile creatures who tend to stick to themselves are preferable.
Any species bigger than axolotls should be avoided as they may take up most of the axolotl’s vital space. Moreover, they’re most susceptible to being eaten or attacked by larger animals.
Species with small appetites, especially those not bottom-dwelling, are preferable to those constantly scavenging for food at the bottom of the tank. The risk with species that feed in this way is that they will compete with your axolotl for food and cause your axolotl to be undernourished.
Finally, bottom feeders are often armored and equipped with spikes, which can a serious injury to your axolotl if it attempted to eat it or got into a skirmish with it.
Certain species of fish are territorial. This means that they will defend what they perceive to be their territory against intruders. Territorial fish are incompatible with axolotls and will likely cause an untold amount of hardship for your axie.
Therefore, any potential tank mate species must be non-territorial and non-threatening.
Best Axolotl Tank Mates
Below, I’ve compiled a list of axolotls’ best tank mates.
I don’t recommend introducing any tank mates other than perhaps certain species of snail, shrimp, or feeder fish which your axolotl can eat. If present in sufficient quantities, these species may even be able to sustain their population despite losing individuals to predation.
Snails are a common and pretty innocuous type of tank mate. One thing to keep in mind is that your axolotl will almost certainly consider snails as fair game. So, expect your snails to get eaten.
With this in mind, you should prefer smaller species of aquarium snails. And the softer their shells, the better. Indeed, snail shells have been known to get stuck in the digestive tract of axolotls, thereby causing impaction.
Recommended species are bladder snails, apple snails, ramshorn snails, or even golden Inca snails.
Shrimp also make relatively harmless companions for axolotls. They tend to do their own thing and haven’t been known to attack, bite or feed off axolotls. However, the contrary isn’t true, and shrimp will likely know the same fate as snails. So, also expect your shrimp population to take a severe hit if your axolotl develops a taste for them.
Moreover, shrimp are incredible recyclers and cleaners. They tend to scavenge uneaten axolotl food at the bottom of the tank, keeping it clean.
Recommended shrimp species are ghost shrimp/glass shrimp, fancy shrimp, cherry shrimp, algae shrimp, and Armano shrimp.
What Fish Can Live With Axolotls?
Fish are the most popular pet and the most kept creatures in aquariums. Therefore, they’re also most commonly considered animals regarding axolotl tank mates.
There are literally thousands of fish species available to fish keepers, so I won’t be able to cover them all here for obvious reasons. However, the fish most commonly kept with axolotls are below.
Remember that even the species below are susceptible to being eaten by your axolotl. Essentially, they’re safer than other species for axolotls but not safe from axolotls.
Tip: Adding plants with dense foliage to your tank may enable them to hide amongst the vegetation, where they’ll have a fighting chance of staying out of your axolotl’s sight – and out of its stomach!
Guppies – or guppy fish, millionfish, or rainbow fish – are undoubtedly one of the world’s most popular freshwater tropical fish species for aquariums. Guppies clearly prefer warmer water (72 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit or 22 to 28 degrees Celsius), but they can survive (but may not thrive) at the ideal water temperature for axolotls: 60 – 64 degrees Fahrenheit or 16 to 18 degrees Celsius.
They’re low maintenance, easy to feed and breed profusely – which makes them an effortless addition to axolotl tanks. With some luck, they will breed fast enough to sustain their population despite predation by your axolotl.
Zebrafish – also known as Zebra Danios – are a very popular type of freshwater fish with aquarium hobbyists. They get their name from the zebra-like blue stripes on their silvery-gold bodies. These fish are prolific breeders, which is a bonus for keeping them with axolotls.
Just like guppies, there’s a chance that they will breed fast enough to sustain their population despite being snacked on by your axolotl.
Minnows, and White Cloud Mountain Minnows, in particular, are a member of the carp family. However, unlike their overgrown Common Carp or Koi Carps cousins that are a threat to axolotls, these freshwater and coldwater fish are generally harmless to axolotls and particularly well suited to the water parameters in axolotl tanks.
Mosquitofish are another species of freshwater fish, ideal for coldwater fish tanks. They’ve traditionally been used for pest control in ponds as they tend to eat mosquito larvae. They also eat plankton, other invertebrates, and larvae – leaving the bigger worms and insects to axolotls.
Killifish are known to be laid-back, hardy freshwater fish that tend to get on well with their tank mates. They also make a good choice of companion and add a dash of color to axolotl tanks.
Most would think that the most obvious candidate for tank mate is another axolotl.
However, as you will see below, that’s not always true…tank size, age, size, and gender must all be considered when choosing a pal for your pet.
Axolotls can share their tank with other axolotls. However, you will want to ensure that your tank is big enough: at least 20 gallons for the first axolotl (preferably even bigger if possible), with an additional 10 gallons for each additional axolotl.
Check out our axolotl tank sizing guide.
When choosing a suitable companion, it’s worth noting that adults may tend to eat their own larvae and that juveniles are known to display cannibalistic behavior towards one another – especially when food gets scarce. Yes, that’s right: axolotls snack on each other!
Therefore, the best fit would be two adults of approximately the same age and preferably the same size.
Gender is also something to consider.
Indeed, two mature adults of the opposite gender are likely to mate. Initially, you will find fertilized eggs in your tank. These eggs will mature into larvae, then juveniles, and finally adults. Baby axolotls could soon overrun you.
Some owners don’t like the idea of their axolotls having babies, so they choose two axolotls of the same gender instead. There’s no risk of them having babies in this situation…
Check out our guide to sexing axolotls to determine the gender of your axolotls.
Worst Axolotl Tank Mates
Now that we’ve covered the best tank mates for axolotls, we must highlight the species you must avoid! You’ll see that the list contains some surprising guests!
The fish listed out below are a bad choice of tank mate. Avoid!
Can Goldfish Live With Axolotls?
I frequently get asked if axolotls can live with goldfish. And the answer is always the same: NO. And then I get asked WHY?
Technically, goldfish meet all the criteria, and one could reasonably expect that they’d make a good tank mate for axolotls. They’re hardy, they’re freshwater fish, they’re well suited to lower temperatures, and they’re generally peaceful, docile non-territorial fish. So where’s the catch?
There are 3 main issues with goldfish.
Firstly, they love to nibble – including on the gills of axolotls. Axolotls rely on their gills to breathe – and even though they can regenerate them, they can’t regenerate fast enough. Therefore, goldfish pose a real threat to your axolotl’s survival. No gills, no breathing. No breathing = death.
They’re also slow. This makes them an easy target for a hungry axolotl. Needless to say that without the skills to escape rapidly, hunting them is like shooting fish in a barrel for your axie. Moreover, tend to be even slower at lower temperatures, which makes them even more vulnerable.
Finally, goldfish are dirty and produce more waste than the average fish their size. Their waste can disturb the nitrogen cycle of the water – outstripping the ability of your nitrifying bacteria colonies to break down the ammonia before it reaches potentially fatal concentrations.
So, with all of the above in mind: steer clear of goldfish.
Also known as Siamese Fighting Fish for their Southeast Asian origins, Betta fish are amazingly beautiful creatures. They’ve colorful fan-like fins and tails and get their monicker from their combative abilities.
Don’t be fooled by these fish’s relatively small size and overall elegance – they’re scrappers and punch well above their weight.
Males, in particular, are very territorial and vigorously defend their territory, food, and mating partners from other male Bettas and aquatic animals. I’ve read reports of Betta fish fighting and even killing other species of fish in their tank or biting chunks off the gills of axolotls.
That being said, axolotls have also been seen eating Betta fish. So the risk of your Betta being eaten is also substantial. In brief, axolotls and Betta don’t mix well.
I definitely don’t recommend you introduce Betta fish to your axolotl tank.
Catfish are bottom-dwelling creatures that will compete with your axolotl for living space and for food. In a way, they’re direct competitors for the same habitat.
Moreover, catfish are powerful fish with piercing spines on their dorsal and pectoral fins. These spines – essentially spikes – can seriously or even fatally injure your axolotl if a fight breaks out or if eaten.
Avoid popular catfish species such as Cory Catfish (pretty but voracious) or Otocinclus Catfish (dwarf-suckers or otos). Otocinclus Catfish are equipped with rows of amour plating, which could stick in your axies digestive tract if it ever had the wrong idea to put an oto on the menu.
For these reasons, strike catfish off your shopping list!
There are over 100 different species of Koi. So I’m going to be generalizing a lot in this section. And, whilst there may indeed be certain species of Koi that live in perfect harmony with axolotls, or even stories of axolotls happily living in garden ponds with shoals of Koi fish – my general opinion on the topic is that axolotls and Koi should not be kept together.
Now, don’t get me wrong…Koi are overwhelmingly peaceful fish. As a matter of fact, they’re a constant feature in Zen gardens in the far East. They definitely don’t have the same reputation as Betta fish, that’s for sure.
The main problem with Koi fish is that they eat a lot – and mainly off the bottom. They’re known as “benthic feeders”. Benthic feeders spend a lot of time close to the bottom of the water, sifting through the sediment bed. In your tank, the sediment bed is your substrate. They mainly subsist on what they can find there.
And guess who also spends most of their time at the bottom? That’s right: your axolotl. So, Koi fish and axolotls will likely compete for food if put together in a tank. If they’re in a garden pond, they’ve much more vital space to share, so it’s easier to understand how they might coexist easily.
Finally, Koi fish tend to be very active and grow very big. They’re constantly swimming around their habitats, mingling with other Koi and other species. On the other hand, axolotls are pretty lazy and don’t like to share their surroundings. The conflict of interest is obvious and for these reasons, I don’t recommend Koi fish for your axolotl setup.
Other species of fish I would not recommend putting in the tank with your axolotl are:
- Loaches (Black-Lined, Horse Face, Kansu, Panda, Peacock, Zebra, etc.)
- Cichlids (Cuipds, Emperors, Redspot, Saddle, Soda, etc.)
- Tetras (Amapa, Bloodfin, Cardinal, Dawn, Emperor, Loreto, Peruvian, Ruby, Splash, etc.)
- Perch (Mekong Tiger, Siamese Tiger, Climbing, Silver Tiger, etc.)
Because axolotls are amphibians, many axolotl owners wonder if they can be kept with other amphibians such as frogs, newts, or indeed other salamanders.
Whilst I’m again going to have to generalize here, the answer to that question is NO. And this is partly because axolotls have a very peculiar life cycle, unlike most other amphibians.
Indeed, they don’t go through metamorphosis and don’t become terrestrial animals. Instead, they spend their entire lives underwater. On the other hand, frogs, newts, and salamanders lose their juvenile features and live predominantly on land when they become adults.
In captivity, axolotls require very different habitats from other amphibians. Whilst frogs, newts, and salamanders require terrariums with a mix of soil and access to water, axolotls don’t need any soil but instead must have an elongated tank full of water.
In addition to this key distinction in terms of habitat, there are other reasons certain amphibian species are incompatible with axolotls, including behavior, feeding habits, etc.
Amphibians and reptiles can be categorized under the collective umbrella of herps. The term “herp” comes from the Greek word “herpeton”, meaning “crawling things.”
Because amphibians seem to share common traits with reptiles, many axolotl owners wonder if axolotls can live with reptiles such as snakes, lizards, or turtles. NO. Axolotls cannot live with reptiles such as snakes, lizards, or turtles.
Can Turtles Live With Axolotls?
No, turtles cannot live with axolotls, even though turtles can live both on land and in the water. Certain turtle species are territorial and aggressive and can inflict serious damage on an axolotl’s delicate body.
Risks of Sharing Tank with Incompatible Tank Mates
Now that we’ve seen what creatures you should avoid putting in an axolotl’s tank let’s summarize what risks are associated with incompatible tank mates.
Whilst axolotls are not that smart – some might even say they’re dumb – they can unarguably become mentally distressed. Factors such as poor water parameters, high temperatures, bright lighting, or, indeed, the presence of an unwelcome tank mate are the leading causes of axolotl distress…
When an axolotl becomes stressed out, many things can start to go wrong…both mentally and physically.
On the behavioral front, axolotls can become despondent and lose their appetite. They can behave unusually and seem out of routine.
In turn, refusing to eat can cause your axie to become undernourished and more susceptible to illness or disease. Just like in humans, sustained negative stress can cause their bodies to malfunction. A shedding slime coat is often an early indicator that something is off…
Axolotls are prone to many different types of physical illness. Some of these conditions can be caused indirectly as a result of the mental distress caused by tank mates. Others can be caused directly, as tank mates can introduce diseases and parasites into the axolotl’s habitat.
Some of the most common diseases axolotls suffer from are:
Finally, the presence of tank mates increases the risk of injury to your axolotl. This risk increases with the number of additional tank mates.
Indeed, as previously touched upon, tank mates can be dangerous for many reasons.
Cuts or wounds
Certain tank mates, fish, in particular, are known to nibble on an axolotl’s fluffy gills or limbs. They can mistake these for food. Even though axolotls can regenerate, this process is slow.
Attacks of this nature – especially on its gills – can wear out an axolotl, cause mental distress (which has a negative feedback loop on the axolotl’s physical well-being), and in certain cases even cause it an axolotl to die.
Secondly, many species have evolved effective defense mechanisms.
In particular, certain species like catfish are armored and equipped with spines that can cut, wound or puncture an axolotl’s delicate body if the axolotl tries to eat it or if a skirmish breaks out.
Sometimes axolotls can be the masters of their downfall. Indeed, axolotls often consider their tank mates prey and try to eat them. All is well if the animal is small enough and relatively defenseless.
However, in certain cases, an axolotl’s eyes are bigger than its stomach!
If an axolotl tries to swallow a tank mate too big for its mouth, it can choke. Worse, if the prey is equipped with barbs or spines, such as a catfish, the outcome can be catastrophic. These spines can get stuck in the axolotl’s mouth, throat, or abdomen and cause the animal to choke or bleed out.
Certain tank mates have the potential to kill an axolotl outright.
Turtles in particular come to mind. Their powerful snappy mouths can take lumps out of an axolotl’s soft body and tear it to shreds. Death would be almost guaranteed.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do Axolotls Eat Aquarium Fish?
Axolotls are carnivores and predators. In the wild, fish is part of their diet. Therefore, they will likely try to eat fish that share the same aquarium. This is especially true of fish that are small and slow enough to be ambushed or hunted. Diurnal fish, which tend to be less active at night when the axolotl is awake, are also easy targets.
Can Axolotls Live with Fish?
Axolotls can live with fish. In the wild, axolotls share their habitat with many different species – including fish. However, axolotls prefer solitude over the company of tank mates, including fish. The presence of fish can cause mental distress, physical illness, injury, and sometimes death. Axolotls also eat fish, and may attempt to eat the fish it lives with.
Can Axolotls Live Together?
Axolotls can live with other axolotls. In the wild, axolotls share their habitat with other axolotls. However, they also tend to be solitary and are not gregarious animals. They only tend to seek partners of the opposite gender during mating season, approximately once a year. Once the mating ritual is finished, axolotls each go their way and return to their solitary lives. In captivity, axolotls can share the same tank. However, the tank must be large enough. Consideration must also be given to the gender, age, and size of the axolotls living together, as adults tend to eat axolotl larvae, and juveniles may attempt to eat each other.
Do Axolotls Get Lonely?
Axolotls do not get lonely. As a matter of fact, they enjoy being on their own and often get stressed in the presence of tank mates such as fish or other axolotls.